Sorting out the Orioles bullpen situation following Friday's loss to Tampa Bay
By By Eduardo A. Encina and The Baltimore Sun
Sep 06, 2014 | 9:12 AM
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Orioles manager Buck Showalter is always going to veer on the side of caution when preserving his bullpen.
He doesn't shy away from saying that keeping his relievers healthy is one of his main priorities when managing his club.
And before the Orioles' 3-0 loss to Tampa Bay on Friday, he said the bullpen would likely have a different look to it. He also said the five of his relievers weren't likely to pitch on Friday.
Some of that is no different than what Showalter has done all season. Closer Zach Britton has pitched in two of the three games against Cincinnati, including Thursday's series finale. So had right-hander Brad Brach, who threw 29 pitches on Thursday. Tommy Hunter pitched Thursday as well, going 1 1/3 innings.
Showalter has always said that he will do everything possible to try to win a game and worry about tomorrow the next day. He needed to use those three pitchers to seal the three-game sweep of the Reds.
But the absence of both left-hander Andrew Miller and right-hander Darren O'Day is mysterious. Miller threw off the mound for the first time Friday since tweaking a muscle in his left leg in Sunday's game. He came out of that session confident he'd be able to return soon.
As for O'Day, he hadn't pitched since Tuesday, when he allowed a grand slam in a 5-4 win over the Reds. We know that Miller is dealing with a physical issue, but other than O'Day's absence, there was nothing to indicate anything was wrong with O'Day physically.
Now there obviously is. If O'Day is available Saturday, that quells any speculation that O'Day is hurt. And Showalter doesn't tip his hand on specific players' availability because he doesn't want to give the opponent any advantage. Knowing that O'Day – who has been a lock-down late-inning arm for the Orioles all season -- isn't available, would definitely give the opposition an edge.
Keep in mind that despite, Friday's loss, the Orioles still hold a 9 ½ game lead over the second-place New York Yankees and now have a magic number of 14. They didn't lose anything, other than a game in their chase of the majors' best record. The Angels hold that distinction by three games.
O'Day, who is 4-1 with a 1.34 ERA, is a key piece to the Orioles' success – so Showalter wants him to be healthy in October. Last September, O'Day went 12 days without pitching after feeling numbness and tingling in his fingers on his pitching hand and having him unavailable definitely hurt as the Orioles chased a postseason berth. There's nothing to believe that O'Day has any reoccurrence of that injury.
Showalter sounded confident before Friday's game that he'd have O'Day back soon.
And there are benefits of building the division lead the Orioles have, and one is the rest your players for October.
The down side of that is that it forces you to use other relievers in unfamiliar roles. Ryan Webb hadn't pitched in a game since Aug. 27 because he dealt with shoulder soreness in his last few days in Triple-A Norfolk.
Also, Webb has mostly been used as a one-inning arm, so trying to get a second inning out of him, especially when he hadn't pitched in a game is so long, was an inherent risk. Webb allowed back-to-back single to open the eighth that started the Rays' rally.
Evan Meek, who allowed had pitched one inning – a scoreless inning on Monday – before entering Friday's game with two on and no outs. He walked a batter to load the bases and then allowed two run-scoring hits.
Today's afternoon game will be telling. Showalter will likely have Britton, Hunter and Brach back, but what about O'Day and Miller?